Japanese star Orfevre bowed out of racing in fine style Dec. 22 when winning the Arima Kinen (Jpn-I) by a commanding eight lengths at Nakayama.
With his victory a foregone conclusion in the lead-up to Japan's year-ending all-star race, the often erratic-running but beloved champion did not disappoint.
The 5-year-old son of Stay Gold was all business as the on-track crowd of 124,782 roared when he swept from near the back of the 16-horse field around the final turn to take charge at the top of the straight. From there, the question was not would he win, but by how many lengths.
The overwhelming favorite under regular rider Kenichi Ikezoe, Orfevre crossed the finish line in 2:32.30 for 2,500 meters (about 12.5 furlongs) on firm turf. His margin of victory was the second longest Arima Kinen history, behind Symboli Kris S, who scored a nine-length triumph in 2003. The race offered a purse of ¥416,000,000 (about $4,622,000 in United States funds).
Win Variation, who was making his second start in a comeback from a 14-month layoff due to a tendon injury, uncoiled a strong rally to take second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of 2012 3-year-old champion and last year's race winner Gold Ship, who encountered some traffic entering the straight.
Orfevre, whose connections skipped the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) one month ago to concentrate on the Arima Kinen, concludes his racing career as Japan's second-highest top earner with a bankroll ¥1,576,213,000 ($15,087,709), ranking only behind all-time leading earner T.M.Opera O.
Bred by Shadai Corp. and owned by Sunday Racing Co., Orfevre is to begin his stallion career at Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido.
Breaking from post 6, Orfevre raced third from the rear early just behind Gold Ship. The pace was set by Lelouch, who was pressed by Curren Mirotic, Danon Ballade, and Nakayama Knight.
Orfevre smoothly advanced on the outside as the tempo picked up 600 meters out and hit the front with 300 meters to run. He romped unchallenged to the finish line.
Ikezoe said he concentrated on relaxing his mount in the early running.
"I tried to focus on how to settle the horse and to keep him in good rhythm instead of where to position him or anything about the other horses," he said. "He was a bit keen to go, but I kept him reserved behind Gold Ship hoping he would stay settled.
"It might have been a bit earlier to make our bid than usual, but he responded so well, I was confident making the last turn that no one would ever be able to catch him. He is definitely the strongest horse in the world."
Winner of the 2011 Arima Kinen after securing Japan's Triple Crown en route to Horse of the Year honors, Orfevre retires with 12 wins, including six at the top level, from 21 career starts.
His record also includes two heart-breaking seconds in the Europe's premier middle-distance race—the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triompe (Fr-I)—in 2012 to Solemia when he was not at 100% fitnessm and this year to Treve Oct. 5 at Longchamp in his previous start.
Orfevre won the Qatar Prix Foy (Fr-II) by three lengths in September at Longchamp in a tuneup for the Arc. Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee was pleased with his pre-race preparations for the Arima Kinen but said his runner was not at his peak on race day.
"He actually wasn't in the best of conditions, but like he's done throughout his career for better or worse, he surprised us," Ikee told the Japan Times.
The Arima Kinen was designed to be a season-ending Grand Prix, in which the runners are selected by fan poll—an "All-Star" event in Japanese racing. Fans cast their votes at racecourses and off-track betting sites, by mail, or online to select the 10 most popular runners. The rest of the field is determined by earnings. For the second straight year Orfevre drew the most fan votes, although he bypassed last year's race after losing the Japan Cup by a nose to the filly Gentildonna.
Orfevre, who is out of the Mejiro Queen mare Oriental Art, secured his Triple Crown the year of the devastating Fukushima earthquake and became an icon in his native country.
"I like to think he gave people hope and something to look forward to," Ikee said. "'Thank you' is all I can say, really."